Xi’s books of the year


One strength of WiC is the way our curation of content points to trends. A couple of years ago we barely ever mentioned AI (artificial intelligence). Over the past 12 months readers will have noted the topic was mentioned at least once every issue. And sure enough, President Xi Jinping is keen to be associated with the game-changing technology too. The front page of the China Daily this week carried the headline: “ Xi’s bookshelf illustrates goal of developing AI powerhouse”. The bookshelf was featured in the Chinese leader’s video address to the nation at New Year. It soon attracted the attention of those trying to work out what he was reading. It was deemed significant by netizens that two of the most prominent books on display were about AI: The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine will Remake Our World by Pedro Domingos; and Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane by Brett King. “The president has attached great importance to the development of artificial intelligence,” mused the China Daily, clearly delighted by the Chinese leader’s highbrow scientific reading matter (it doesn’t mention it, but Michael Wolff’s new account of the White House – Fire and Fury – suggests President Trump does not read books, preferring cable TV).

Meanwhile the Financial Times reports that Alibaba’s AI system bested the average human score in a global reading test using the Stanford Question Answering Dataset. It was among several AI systems to participate in the exercise, and tied in top place with Microsoft’s. Commented the FT: “While Microsoft and Alibaba won by the slimmest of margins – at accuracy levels a few basis points above humans’ 82.3% in providing exact matches to questions – the tie provided a fitting symbol of the AI arms race being waged by the US and China.”

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